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Wim HENDERICKX (b.1962)
Disappearing in Light (2008) [32:05]
Raga III (2010) [14:54]
The Four Elements (2011) [26:45]
HERMESensemble (Mireille Capelle (mezzo); Karin De Fleyt (flutes); Marc Tooten (viola); Gaetan La Mela (percussion); Orsolya Horvath (violin); Stijn Saveniers (cello); Peter Merckx (clarinet, bass clarinet); Jorrit Tamminga (electronics))/Wim Henderickx
rec. 2011, Crescendo Studio, Genk and Studio C, Antwerp, Belgium.
HERMESENSEMBLE no number [74:14]

This is one of those intriguing West-meets-East programmes which these days more commonly sees the tables reversed, with numerous new composers emerging from China and elsewhere. This music started to take form when Belgian composer Wim Henderickx found himself high in the Nepalese Himalayas and, on sounding a huge gong there, had the inspiration for his Tantric Cycle. Other works in this series have preceded those in this recording, but the link between music and spirituality is explored deeply here.

Disappearing in Light is an extensive work in five movements, reflecting 'an imaginary tantric ritual', with all its theatricality of gesture. There is unusual string playing, an alto flute which takes on the qualities of an ethnic bamboo instrument, and some remarkable exotic singing from Mireille Capelle. No vocal texts are given in the booklet, so our interpretations of meaning are free. Passions and apparent aggression in the first movement contrast with calls in the second which refer to Eastern mantras. Static silences are punctuated by the ritualistic percussive sounds of stones, and the use of tubular bells further along in the work also give an impression of cyclic devotional actions. As a whole this is a piece with a remarkably convincing atmosphere of strange worship and elusive narratives. Creating such a thing with an economy of means which involves only four players and a smattering of restrained electronic effects is quite a feat.

Raga III opens with the refreshing tonality of an open fifth, the drone introducing a piece based on the '"Shri raga", a raga for the noon which breathes spirituality and melancholy.' The deep sonorities of the viola weave lines around this tonal base, evoking shimmering heat and vast landscapes.

The Four Elements takes on this universal theme with sparing symbolism and a further exploration of deep spirituality. Air is filled with a variety of breath sounds, the range and colour of which is extended by electronic echoes. Vocal lines are once more a central feature, the emotional connections at times direct and confrontation, at others more operatic and objective. Fire pits the voice against a cello in an energetic struggle out of which 'electronics represent the wood on which the duo of the mezzo and cello flare up as music.' Water is a gentler portrait, with an electronic halo of burbling aquatic sounds around voice and clarinet. The final Earth has heavily thumping rubble to underpin the penetrating, cyclic gestures of voice and violin.

This is not easy music, but it is a potent source of expression which gathers and filters Eastern music and rituals through the composer's experience, his interpretations transforming familiar instruments and the human voice into worlds which for most of us are distant and unknown. Well recorded and superbly performed by members of the HERMESensemble, the CD is presented in a nice foldout package like a mini-LP.

Dominy Clements

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